Satan in the Thought of Clement and Origen

One of the most gaping problems for those who believe in a personal Devil relates to what actually happened when Christ died. Hebrews 2:14 clearly states that in His death, Christ “destroyed him that has the power of death, that is the devil”. As I’ll explain later, I find the only meaningful and Biblically consistent approach here is to understand that the Devil is used here as a personification for sin—for it is sin which brings death (Romans 6:23). The entire curse on earth as a result of human sin is described in Genesis as being brought by God and not by any personal Satan. Sin and death are very frequently connected together in the Bible (Romans 5:12, 21; 6:16,23; 7:13; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:56; James 1:15). In none of those passages is there the slightest hint that it is a personal Satan who brings about our death; the cause of death is ultimately human sin. Yet Origen insisted that “the Devil controls the ultimate evil, death” (Against Celsus 4.92,93). The early “fathers”, having committed themselves to belief in a personal Satan, had to face the music from the Gnostics and other critics over these issues—seeing sin and evil continued and even increase daily in the world, how can it be that Christ destroyed the Devil? A purely Biblical position would’ve had no problem answering that objection—Christ destroyed the power of sin, in that we can now be forgiven and be counted as “in Christ” by baptism. He as our representative has enabled us to become in a position whereby all that is true of Him now stands true for us; and thereby our resurrection from the dead and receipt of eternal life is assured by His grace.

But this wasn’t the position of the “fathers”. Both they and all who have come after them have struggled to explain how Christ could “destroy” a personal being called the Devil on the cross, and yet that Devil is still apparently alive and active, and has been for the past 2000 years. The sheer variety of explanations indicate the deep problem which this poses for standard Christendom. Tertullian and Clement were some of the first to try to wriggle out of it. Tertullian wrote of how Jesus broke the bolts of hell and went around smashing the place up. Clement took it further and claimed that after His death, the Lord Jesus descended into “hell” and released the souls of the righteous who had been previously kept captive by the Devil. Hippolytus went on to teach that therefore Christ’s descent into hell was as important a part of His redemptive work as His death on the cross1. All this was based around the acceptance into Christianity of the pagan ideas of hell as a place of punishment and immortal souls—both of which were imports from paganism and Platonism. The word “hell” was actually derived from the Teutonic goddess of the underworld. The Biblical, original Christian position was that hell is simply the grave, which is how the Hebrew sheol is usually translated; and the soul refers to the person or body, which ceases conscious existence at death. I discuss hell in section 2-5. The new position adopted was out of step with the huge insistence of the New Testament that the death and resurrection of Christ were to be understood as the final, crowning apex of God’s plan which of itself destroyed the Devil and enabled human salvation (Romans 5:5-8; 6:3-9; 1 Peter 3:18). It was because Christ “both died and rose and revived” that He became Lord of all (Romans 14:9)—never is there any mention of His ‘harrowing of hell’ during His three days in the grave. And He of course was silent about any such activity during His appearances to the disciples after the resurrection. Paul’s summary of the basic Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 simply stated that Christ “died… was buried…and rose again”. Peter likewise drew a contrast with David, who died, was buried and was still dead—whereas Christ died and was buried, but His body didn’t remain in the grave but was resurrected (Acts 2:29-32). The only passage which Clement clung on to was the reference in 1 Peter 3 to Christ’s preaching to those imprisoned—and we consider this in Digression 4.

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Author: Duncan Heaster

Keywords: Celsus, Satanology, Demonology, Adversary, Christ tempted, Christ tempted in the wilderness, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Man's sinful nature, Personification of evil, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sin in the flesh, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Two inclinations, Tempter, Envy of the devil, Clement, Origen

Bible reference(s): 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6-9, Job 1:12, Job 2:1-7, Isaiah 14:12, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 12:26, Matthew 13:19, Matthew 13:38-39, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 25:41, Mark 1:13, Mark 3:23, Mark 3:26, Mark 4:15, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:2-5, Luke 4:13, Luke 8:12, Luke 11:18, Luke 13:16, Luke 22:3, Luke 22:31, John 6:70, John 8:44, John 13:2, John 13:27, John 17:15, Acts 5:3, Acts 10:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 26:18, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 3:6, 1 Timothy 3:7, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19, Jude 1:9, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:24, Revelation 3:9, Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12, Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:10

Source: “The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration.”

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